BusinessPress logo

Q&A with Bob Elkins, chief executive officer of The Center

If he could have one super power, Bob Elkins would pick time travel.

“I would like to go back to in the time before 1980,” he said, “when there wasn’t anything like AIDS, and I hadn’t lost my friends.”

As CEO of The Center, a Las Vegas organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, Elkins might have found the next best thing. He has the broad-reaching power to teach people about safe sex and champion sexual and gender equality.

“I’m happy to be here,” Elkins said. “I feel like I’m in the right place. It’s the right organization for me.”

Elkins took the job in September, not long after his partner, Mark Hoyle, had accepted a job with Cirque du Soleil’s “Zarkana” show.

When Elkins was a student at the University of Virginia, he worked as a resident assistant and served as president of the gay student union. At one point, the university president unsuccesfully tried to have him removed from his job as an RA because he was gay.

Now 56, with a degree from the university, and having worked in banking, marketing and technology around the globe, Elkins sits on the board of the university’s LGBT Alumni network.

Elkins took on volunteer roles early in his professional career. He was a community organizer in New York in 1987 when he learned he was HIV positive. As he watched friends die of AIDS, he decided to move to San Francisco and work with Project Inform, an HIV treatment advocacy and research group. He has lived with the disease and worked to promote sexually healthy lifestyles ever since.

What do you see in Nevada as the biggest issue for the LGBT community?

Because we still don’t have marriage equality, that is the top issue. How that happens is still kind of up for debate. … Once marriage equality is in place, there are some challenges. There is a very big difference between what I call lived freedom and legal equality. Just because there’s marriage doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of folks who are unable to get work, or health care or housing because of their gender identity. The trans population here is really beaten down by everyone, including the LGB folks, and that’s really challenging.

Do you feel a sense of activism here?

Yes. Definitely. This is an interesting city, and the LGBT folks here are surprisingly fragmented. There’s a lot of drama. There’s a lot of backstabbing. I think one of the reasons the board hired me is because I don’t have any history here. They really see the center as being a unifier of the disparate groups of LGBT folks here. So in that sense, I’m playing an activist role in really empowering the community to come together and to forget petty differences.

You spent much of your career in the corporate world. Was The Center something you saw a need for?

Honestly, the job kind of came to me. In moving here with my partner, getting settled here, I didn’t at all come here thinking, “Oh I’m going to work for a nonprofit.”

What’s been the biggest adjustment?

Really, the competition for resources both financial and otherwise. There are a lot of community-based organizations here in Las Vegas that are doing a lot of very good work without a lot of money. … My big adjustment was realizing that to make this agency work we had to reach out to a broad range of people.

What do you enjoy in your free time?

I don’t have any free time, quite honestly. This is a 90- to 100-hour-a-week job. But I love my dogs. Before I started the work, we were going to Red Rock Canyon and hiking. Just seeing this part of the country is a thrill. But I don’t do much else other than that.

Is there anything about you someone might not know?

My life’s been a pretty open book. … One thing: I won an Army ROTC scholarship when I was 17. But I thought, “Hey, am I really going to be OK being openly gay in the U.S. Army?” I thought no. And this was 1975. So I turned it down and went to an ACC school.